John Key’s interview on Radio New Zealand is quite telling. Guyon Espiner, patiently pursues some crucial questions, while Key diverts and twists and turns. He uses analogies that are not equivalent: a list of the All Blacks team under wraps, is not the same as private details of ordinary people who are members of a political party; Keith Ng’s process of exposing the failings of the WINZ system to keep claimants details private, in order to get that hole closed, is not like the way Whale Oil encouraged other members of the public to look at Labour Party members private details.
And don’t get me started on treating politics as a game, in which all is fair. I’ve been working on a transcript of the interview. It’s a wearying process, listening carefully to all John Key’s obfuscations, diversions, and attempts to gloss over the dirty politics that are a feature of his time as National party leader.
KEY: What we do know is, you know, you’ve got a a book that’s pretty selective, in its in its emails and they’re based on one perspective. And probably a bit out of context and with a whole bunch of assumptions that are either aren’t correct or are made up and now can’t be backed up. But whose behind it? You have to go and ask yourself the question, “Who has the motivation? And who has the capabilities?” The answer is I, I don’t know the answer to those.
ESPINER: Well let’s have a look at some of those specifics in the book. Cameron Slater gets an OIA request granted from the SIS which embarrasses Phil Goff. It’s approved in a few days, which is unheard of for information to be released that quickly, especially from the highly sensitive SIS.
ESPINER: Did that did that request come across your desk?
ESPINER: So you’re the minister responsible for the SIS, yet you did not sign off on that request?
ESPINER: You had no knowledge that a request had been made?
KEY: I knew there were requests cause, you know, I would have known cause generally they say, you know, there’s a series of requests into the into the SIS or the GCSB, but they often sign off on, well they would sign off on things on their own timetable. We’ve got slightly better processes now so they’ll tell me.
ESPINER: So, you had, I mean this is very unusual for a minister
ESPINER: not to get, not to get OIA requests put by them before they go out.
KEY: Not always, to be honest. Sometimes I I myself am amazed the stuff I see on the paper that’s been released under the SIS. But, look, at the end of the day, I mean Phil Goff made either a genuine mistake, or he was incompetent. This is an issue from 3 years ago which probably most voters aren’t that interested in talking now but
ESPINER: So, why did Cameron Slater get the information that the general media sought, asked for, and didn’t get?
KEY: Well, you’d have to ask the SIS that. It must be to do with the way the request was written. But, and I think he actually didn’t get the information. I, look I can’t remember cause it was so many years ago now, but I think he got the [type?] of what was in there. But that was because Warren Tucker did brief him. I was saying that publicly Warren Tucker briefed him. I was saying everywhere, because we knew he was briefed on the issue. Now he either just genuinely forgot, or he was incompetent and didn’t realise it. But what ultimately happened there, was that he was wrong, and Warren knew he was wrong and was, maybe he was offended by it but it was a pretty simple thing so he released it. Lots of OIAs go out quite quickly. It was nothing to do with me.
EPSINER: OK. The accessing of the Labour Party computer. You have said it is OK for Jason Ede to have looked and poked around in that material.
KEY: Well, could I jus, firstly there’s a few assumptions in that in that whole thing. One as I understand it, [?]
rehash we can rehearse [?] the whole thing. But one is that you know somehow National hacked into the thing. That that’s just not true. Secondly it was nothing to do with us in terms of, you know, the initial sort of thing. My understanding of it, only because generally
ESPINER: Yes but, but you, but you have conceded you think it’s OK for Jason Ede to have been looking around in that material.
KEY: Yeah, I do. Because there’s the, the point here was that there was no hacking of anything. Obviously a couple of these guys, one of which includes Cameron Slater worked out.
ESPINER: But it was supposed to be private material though isn’t it?
ESPEINER: But you think it’s OK for one of your staff members to go looking around in it, even if it was mistakenly improperly secured.
KEY: So are you genuinely saying Guyon, if National made a bit of a mistake, and on its website, where people can donate to us or where there’s a there’s information about our members, if we, if we took our security off, made a mistake and left it open, and that a left wing blogger became aware of that, very much like
ESPINER: No, your own staff member and you haven’t. No one’s denied this,
ESPINER: Your own staff member picked through the information.
KEY: No, no, but let’s say a left wing blogger, because we had that
ESPINER: Well, no we don’t need to deal in hypotheticals, because we’ve got a real scenario right here. What is appropriate about the fact that someone in your office, was poking around in another party’s private information?
KEY: Take a breath for a second, and let’s just let me finish. OK so if a left wing blogger, went around and found out that there was a situation where the security had been taken off, right. And we’ve been told that to, I don’t know, someone who works in David Cunliffe’s office, would they potentially go and have a look? And the answer is , Yes, and that would be totally fine. If theall. If the Wallabies, on Tuesday night, left their starting line-up, up on, on, on their website, on their private website, would the All Black’s go and have a look? The answer is yes. And the reason I know that is it’s happened. And
ESPINER: So this, this is just a way that dir, that politics is, now is it? This is dirty politics, but it’s OK?
ESPINER: This is the moral leadership you seem to be presiding over here? Oh, well, it’s fair game, the door was open, so we came in and had a look around.
KEY: Well, a left wing blogger worked out that the WINZ sites were open. And went.
ESPINER: And so you uphold the same standards as some blogger do you, as the Prime Minister of New Zealand?
KEY: No, what I’m saying to you,
ESPINER: Well they are the analogies you’re giving me.
KEY: No, they’re not, what I’m saying to you is, that a whole lot of assumptions were made in the book, or were cast that way, that were either would knowingly have been wrong because Nicky Hager must have known that was wrong: this is [?] that was broken into, or he was, you know, in such a rush to get the job out that was basically gone and run roughshod over the facts. But what I’m saying to you is that in the end, yeah, look, at the end of the day, people do look at things, and that’s just, that’s just the way it works.
TO BE COMPLETED
KEY: I mean
ESPINER: OK. Well what about the behaviour of your minister Judith Collins? Is it acceptable for her to divulge the name of a public servant, because he may have leaked details ?
KEY: Well I don’t have the details on that one
ESPINER: she suspected he did.
KEY: I just don’t
ESPINER: Well, why don’t you ask her?
KEY: Well because I. A: it’s very. Sorry it’s. Look to be
ESPINER: In fact, in fact, with respect, Mr Key, she has admitted that. She conceded she did pass on that name.
KEY: Yeah, but I don’t know the details under, of all of that scenario.
ESPINER: So why don’t you ask her?
KEY: Because, at the end of the day, we’re five weeks out from an election, people can see that Nicky Hager’s made a whole lot of things up in his book. He can see that he can’t back a lot of them up.
ESPINER: Well, I’m talking about one that can be backed up. You’re not going to get away with that.
KEY: See he
ESPINER: Because, because, this is one that can be backed up, because the Justice Minister of New Zealand has conceded publicly, that she did pass on the name of a public servant. That resulted in him getting some pretty severe death threats. And you think that’s, OK?
KEY: And people can see that
ESPINER: It’s OK?
KEY: And people can see
ESPINER: Yes or no? Is it OK?
KEY: And people can see that this
ESPINER: Is it OK?
KEY: People can see
ESPINER: Is it OK that Judith Collins did that, yes or no?
KEY: And people can see that this is a smear campaign by Nicky Hager and
ESPINER: I’m not asking you for a critique about Nicky Hager’s motivation
Key: Well I
ESPINER: I’m asking you about something that is publicly in the arena. Judith Collins has said, “I passed on the name of this public servant.” And we know what happened after that.
KEY: But the
ESPINER: I’m asking you a simple question. Was that appropriate, Yes or No?
KEY: context is totally relevant, because at the end of the day, I don’t know all the context of what happened here and in all those situations
ESPINER: You know the context here, Prime Minster. Please answer the question.
KEY: We don’t know
ESPINER: Was it appropriate for your Justice Minister to pass on the name of a public servant doing his job, who was then severely sanctioned on a website?
KEY: So, I don’t know all the details behind all of that. But what I do know, is that this is a series of selected pieces of information. Many of which can’t be backed up. I know that this was
ESPINER: I’m asking you about one of them.
KEY: Yeah, well, I’m not going to go into your individual ones, because in the end, this is a smear campaign, about which, I gotta say, started the week with with people, you know, out there
ESPINER: No, I’m not, you’re not going to talk about burning effigies, etc, because it has nothing to do with this.
KEY: Well, it does [voice hits a squeaky note]
ESPINER: I’m talking No
KEY: to do with this, because, at the end of the day,
ESPINER: No. this is about the behaviour of your Justice Minister. Do you stand by her today?
KEY: Yeah [slightly squeaky voice] I stand by her. And in the end, it does have a lot to with it, because we started the week with burning effigies. Then we went into, into, sorry, FU videos. Then we went into into burning effigies, then we went into Bill
ESPINER: OK, we’re not going to traverse the whole history. Here’s a final question for you.
ESPINER: Were you aware that Jason Ede was running, effectively, a dirty tricks campaign from your office? Did you know about that?
KEY: He’s he’s been briefing bloggers and, of course he briefs people on the right – just as people – I’m in the Labour leadership over the years have briefed people on the left.
ESPINER: Yeah, but he’s not just briefing a blogger. There’s a guy who writes, “Feral dies in Greymouth did world a favour”; calls people in Christchurch after the earthquake a a scum
KEY: Yeah b
ESPINER: Are you happy to associate yourself with Cameron Slater of Whale Oil?
KEY: Well at the end of the day, he’s not, he’s not my guy, Cameron Slater. I don’t run anything. Anyone who knows Cameron Slater, knows that he’s a force unto himself. And at the end of the day, yeah, he gets
ESPINER: Yeah. And what do you think of him?
KEY: information from a whole bunch of things. I’m not here to, to either defend the guy
ESPINER: But you are, because you engage with him and your office was in a systematic campaign of feeding him information.
KEY: No, no, what happens is, there’s certainly. Of course we would brief bloggers and talk to bloggers. And there’s a whole wide range of them. And so does the left. And if they don’t, then you’re either naïve or
ESPINER: Do you respect the work he does?
KEY: That’s not for me to critique his stuff. What I have to
EPSINER: Well, it is because you engage with him. You’ve told us that.
KEY: I’m not a political
ESPINER: You text him and you talk to him.
KEY: OK. I’m not a political commentator. What I have to do is be aware of what’s on blog sites. And the truth is, Guyon, you and I would have fifty thousand more conversations than I have with that guy. So, you can deny that if you want
ESPINER: So, are you
KEY: even though
KEY: In your previous
ESPINER: No No
KEY: roles I’ve spoken to you
ESPINER: Yes so
KEY: I hardly the talk to this guy
ESPINER: So are you equating the work that journalists at Radio New Zealand, Television New Zealand, TV 3 and the other mainstream media do, to a guy who says “Feral dies in Greymouth did world a favour” and calls people in Christchurch scum
KEY: Well I don’t agree, I don’t agree with those comments. But he’s a shock jock right wing
ESPINER: Are you equating him with with the work that most mainstream journalists do, and the public listening to this, who consume their material? Are you saying to the public of New Zealand, “That’s just the same as Whale Oil”?
KEY: Well, all I’m saying is, whether we like it or not, social media is part of the overall media network these days. And I have to deal with those issues, just like anyone else.
INTERVIEW AND TRANSCRIPT END